National Indoor Climbing Achievement Scheme

Posted by Guy Jarvis - Chair ABC Training Trust on 27/05/2008

The National Indoor Climbing Achievement Scheme (NICAS) has launched in major indoor climbing centres around the whole of the UK.

Run by the Association of British Climbing Walls (ABC) and aimed primarily at youth climbers (aged between 7 to 25), the scheme will improve training, boost participation and increase recognition of achievement in the sport.

Indoor climbing has reached such popularity now that some climbing walls are training up to 20,000 individuals a year. Many schools regularly use climbing as part of their GCSE PE program as do colleges and many other youth organisations. Now there is a uniform scheme for climbing development - with recognised awards that participants can show for their efforts.

Aims of the scheme:

  • to develop climbing movement skills and improve levels of ability
  • to learn climbing rope-work and how to use equipment safely
  • to develop risk assessment and management skills in the sport
  • to work as a team, communicate with, and trust a climbing partner
  • to develop an understanding of the sport, it’s history and future challenges
  • to point the way to further challenges in climbing beyond the scheme
  • to provide a record of personal achievement and accreditation

Climbing walls are where most people, young and old, are now introduced to climbing for the first time. Youth are particularly attracted to indoor climbing as it is much more accessible than outdoors. Consequently many climbing walls have thriving junior clubs. The ABC is keen to promote good practice in climbing and to advance technique so that new climbers can catch the bug of what climbing is really all about- vertical movement.

The NICAS scheme is split into five levels. Each level progressively introduces skills, knowledge and responsibilities which build upon the previous level. The whole scheme requires over 100 hours of climbing for a motivated student – depending on their aptitude. Candidates receive a colourful log book which guides them through the scheme. Once each level is completed they receive a certificate which is recognised by the ABC and the Mountaineering Councils. You can join the scheme at any level and it is fully transferable around the country.

Registration and all materials cost £11.50 for the whole scheme. Alternatively it is possible to register for levels 1 and 2 only for £4.

The scheme in more detail:

1. Foundation climber – an entry level award aimed at complete novices that recognises their ability to climb safely under supervision (approx 3hrs).
2. Top rope climber – a top rope proficiency award aimed at promoting best practice in climbing and bouldering on an artificial wall (approx 8 hours).
3. Technical climber – a more advanced climbing and bouldering award that focuses on developing technique and movement skills (approx 20 hrs).
4. Lead climber - an award that concentrates on the skills required to lead climb and lead belay proficiently (approx 30hrs).
5. Advanced climber – the top level award that focuses on improving performance with a deeper understanding of the sport and the wider world of climbing (approx 50 hrs).

The scheme has been developed and trialled over nearly three years by the ABC. There has been wide consultation within the industry, including an 18 month pilot that saw over 2000 youngsters go through the scheme in 10 ABC climbing centres. This was a great success and schools, colleges and universities have been particularly keen to take it up. The scheme has also been designed to complement the new national Climbing Wall Award (CWA) for instructors to give them a uniform template to train budding wall rats with.

To deliver NICAS the ABC has established a network of Primary Centres around the country whose role is to train, advise and supply materials to other climbing walls and instructors in their area. Most of the Primary Centres run outdoor courses so NICAS graduates can have the opportunity to apply their new honed skills to real rock. Any school or organisation with a climbing wall can apply to become an Awarding Centre by contacting the ABC Training Trust.

So look out for the young climbing stars of the future. They are found in climbing walls all around the country and NICAS will find many more of them and help them to develop their full potential – wherever it may lead. If you see a young climbing lizard at your wall eagerly filling in a log book in between climbs you’ll know they’re on the right track….

Details of the scheme and how to participate in it as a candidate or Awarding Centre can be found on the NICAS website.

Download the NICAS poster



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